Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
The issue of mental health stigma has always surrounded question 21 of Standard Form 86 (SF-86). It’s a fact that few applicants are denied a clearance based on listing mental health counseling on the security clearance form. But experts argue that including the question will prevent some from seeking help in the first place, knowing they’ll need to list any counseling on a future security clearance application or reinvestigation.
On September 4th, the Department of Defense emphasized its commitment to making the counseling received by victims of sexual assault more private. According to a DoD memo victims of sexual assault must still list any counseling received on their SF-86, but when it comes to using information about that counseling to make a clearance determination, the basis will be a yes or no question directed toward the individuals’ physician – ‘does the applicant have a condition that could impair their judgment or ability to safeguard classified information?’ If the answer is no, no further questions will be asked.
The memo seems to be a face-saving response to critics of requiring victims of sexual assault to answer the question. When similar criticism of mental health counseling stigma for victims of Post-Traumatic-Stress were reported, the Department of Defense in 2008 clarified that service members did not have to report counseling related to combat stress. In contrast, DoD is not excluding sexual assault counseling from reporting requirements, but is emphasizing its commitment to privacy for sexual assault victims.
When it comes to investigating a psychological condition, current practice as it already stands is to simply direct a yes or no question to the mental health practitioner providing the counseling. If the answer of impaired judgment or ability to safeguard information is no, information about the applicant’s condition aren’t released – regardless of the reason for the counseling.
In a recent interview, “Can Counseling Complicate Your Security Clearance?” Evan Lesser, ClearanceJobs founder and managing director, noted that security clearance investigations today are looking at the big picture surrounding an individual’s character and history, and also recognize the increased prevalence of mental health counseling. While counseling may have been an issue in the past, that isn’t the case today.
“They take into account the totality of someone and their actions, their circumstances, how they got there,” Lesser said.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said he’s looking into proposals to amend the SF-86 to remove requirements to report sexual assault related counseling.
When it comes to security clearance adjudication, policy is clear that mental health counseling in and of itself is not a justification for a clearance denial, regardless of the reason for the counseling. Practically speaking, however, it certainly could prevent an interim clearance.
A recent court ruling on whether or not employees holding ‘sensitive’ positions can appeal layoffs to the Merit Systems Protection Board demonstrates less about legal protections for federal employees than it highlights how confusing sensitivity designations can be.
Most individuals who have applied for a position with the federal government realize that there is a difference between ‘employment suitability’ and a security clearance. Employment suitability screening consists of a National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI) with applicants completing an SF-85P, typically, versus an SF-86. Just as investigations differ depending upon the clearance level, investigations differ for employment suitability based on the level of risk assigned to the position. (Learn more here.)
Some are concerned that employment designations may soon be used to not just protect classified information, but to help oust employees from federal positions.
In a 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Court, two low-level defense department employees were denied an appeal after being barred from holding “non-critical sensitive positions.” Following 9/11, many positions have been reclassified from non-sensitive to sensitive. The two plaintiffs in the recent case were individuals whose positions had been redesignated but due to financial issues, in one instance, and undisclosed reasons in the other, the individuals were not eligible for the sensitive positions, and were eventually fired as a result.
Critics of the ruling feel that reclassifying position designations could soon be used as a means for federal managers to fire employees without cause. The majority opinion in the case argued that the need to protect classified information trumps employee rights, in this instance. Federal agencies are more equipped to make personnel decisions than the courts, and electronic records management gives even non-cleared employees access to information which could harm national security.
As the government looks to cut costs and move forward with security clearance reform, reevaluation of security clearance designations may be in the cards. Unlike the case above, many agencies are looking into where they can reduce clearance levels, downgrading top secret clearances to secret clearances, which results in significant cost savings over time. At the same time, the widespread use of electronic records keeping, as referenced by the majority opinion in this case, will likely continue the use of ‘non-critical sensitive’ position designations as an assurance that those with access to government computer networks and systems warrant that access.
A position sensitivity designation is not the same as a security clearance. All federal positions are evaluated and given a sensitivity designation:
Moderate Risk Public Trust
High Risk Public Trust
“As a practical matter within DOD 95% or more of all Non-critical sensitive positions are so designated because the positions require access to Confidential or Secret national security information and 95% or more of all Critical Sensitive positions are so designated because the positions require access to Top Secret information,” noted William Henderson, author and security clearance consultant. “All positions designated Special sensitive (a term not universally used within DOD) are so designated because they require access to SCI or other SAPs.”
An individual under investigation for a non-critical sensitive position without a security clearance undergoes the same adjudicative criteria as someone applying for the same non-critical sensitive position with the need for a security clearance. Persons with a ‘non-critical sensitive position’ could then be granted access to classified information administratively, without need for an additional investigation, said Henderson.
That reality supports the court’s decision that the designation of sensitivity – like security clearances – best falls within agency purview, rather than the judiciary.
Despite the outcry of union leaders and worker’s rights groups, it would seem the decision to allow the government to fire individuals who don’t meet criteria for non-critical sensitive positions is a sound one. Federal managers are unlikely to re-designate positions for the sole reason of retaliation, and if that were the case the employee would simply need to justify why their position should not have been reclassified.
It’s a tough topic – almost beyond the grasp of the editor of ClearanceJobs.com! Knowledgeable investigators, feel free to weigh in with your perspective or correction! – LK
Think it’s not a big deal to provide false information on an employment application? Think again.
If you’ve applied for government jobs, even those without security clearance, you’ve filled out some form of suitability determination. Even if you’re not accessing classified information in the scope of your work, the government likes to have some idea of your trustworthiness…and any previous run-ins with drugs, alcohol, firearms and explosives, in particular.
Even if you’re just filling out a job application, lying can pose serious consequences – just ask Terrance Lee King, a Denver man who is facing up to five years in a federal prison and a $250,000 fine for lying on a security-badge application for the Denver International Airport. On a fingerprinting and badging application, King indicated that he had never been convicted of any disqualifying criminal offenses, even though that was clearly not the case.
Investigators have thus far not found any “terrorist motives” – although they have found that King is a pretty big idiot. As this story breaks, King is already serving time in state prison for violating parole on prior convictions for a weapons violation and drug possession, reported Denver’s Channel 7 News.
It’s a good reminder that not all offenses are created equally, and when suitability determinations screen applicants for drug, alcohol and weapons violations, there’s good reason. King’s case seems to be a clear-cut issue of lying to try to get a job, not human error or confusion.
Questions on Clearancejobs.com frequently include whether or not an individual needs to include a specific incident on his or her SF86. And while we rarely advocate for including more information than necessary, if you’ve ever had a run-in with the law, especially one involving weapons, drugs, or alcohol, you’re better to list and mitigate from the get-go than discover months later you were, in fact, arrested that one time in college you barely remember.
When is a job about more than the job? When you have a security clearance or you’re in the military.
Many people have heard the phrase ‘held to a higher standard’ used in conjunction with men and women in uniform. It’s not just a reference to a higher moral character or sense of patriotism, its actual military doctrine and protocol, including the Uniform Code of Military Justice and security clearance requirements. The military is just about the only employer these days who will fire you or demote you for having an affair, for instance. Why? Because the prohibition is outlined in UCMJ.
With such clear guidelines known by anyone in uniform, it’s hard to believe stories like this still exist. Last week the story broke of a Navy Commander who had an affair with a 23-year-old he met on a dating site. After the woman told him she was pregnant, the navy officer allegedly faked his own death via email messages. The officer had emails sent which implied an incident had occurred in the scope of his “special operations” military duties and he’d died.
It sounds like a soap opera, but appears to be depressingly real. A Navy press release noted that Ward had been relieved of command due to “lack of confidence” and “allegations of personal misconduct.”
The reality is most security clearance issues are significantly less obvious than this. Will a one-time affair that you disclose to your spouse result in clearance denial? Hardly, and it’s not likely to even come up in the course of an investigation. But incidents such as the one above highlight the need for standards of personal integrity in positions of public trust, especially at the highest clearance levels.
If you’re willing to create a web of lies and pretend to be dead to avoid your problems, what else would you be willing to do? Now, if only all clearance investigations involved incidents this easy to assess.
I never realized that when it comes to classified information it’s not just “top secret” “secret” and “confidential” – based on a recent assessment from the Pentagon press pool there’s also “classified-classified” and “B.S. classified.”
The topic came up in a recent Pentagon press briefing with Bloomberg reporter Tony Capaccio questioning Pentagon spokesman George Little regarding an anti-leak memorandum released by the Pentagon last week. Cappacio noted that the idea of classification had become “a joke” and asked what defense officials were going to do to distinguish “classified-classified versus B.S. classified” – as he put it.
It’s the same debate on overclassification, different scenario. With congress hotly debating the repercussions for leaks in the wake of some widespread and high-profile breaches – and putting the press on the hot seat for publishing classified information – those on the other side of the argument continue to cry “overclassification” not “leak.”
Reporters aren’t the first to charge the government with overclassification. The FAS Project on Government Secrecy has been accusing the government of overclassifying information for years. Members of congress and the Government Accountability Office have also argued that overclassification is a drain on the system, reduces transparency and costs millions of taxpayer dollars each year.
It’s a tough argument in the era of Wikileaks. Some are urging that classification reform would actually reduce the instance of breaches, with less information to steal, clearer protocols, and more transparency. Others argue that the risks demand more caution before releasing even potentially sensitive materials.
Congress has shifted focus from overclassification to leaks, with 12 provisions in the 2013 Intelligence Authorization bill related to unauthorized disclosures of classified information. The provisions are largely procedural changes and clarifications on what cleared personnel can and can’t do. None get at what is considered the heart of the issue for many – offering clearer protocols for the declassification of information and reducing the amount of classified information – “B.S.” or otherwise.
Congress is adding muscle to its requests for harsh penalties against those accused of leaking classified information.
Last week Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced the Deterring Public Disclosure of Covert Actions Act of 2012, which will revoke the security clearances of individuals who disclose covert actions. Burr emphasized that no such bill should need to be issued, but recent concerns about a dramatic rise in sensitive information being disclosed make such legislation necessary.
“There has been no shortage of news reports lately regarding covert and classified actions,” Senator Burr said. “Such reckless disclosure of top-secret information compromises our national security, jeopardizes the work of our intelligence officers and overseas partners, and risks innocent lives.”
The law would apply to officers, contractors and government employees and Burr emphasized in his statement that no one would lose their clearance without due process, and a determination that classified information had actually been leaked.
The bill comes in follow-up to an announcement by the Director of National Intelligence that new polygraph procedures would ask specifically about whether an individual has ever disclosed protected information. Polygraph procedures are now in the spotlight, following a McClatchy News Service report on abuses in the polygraph screening process. Unless carefully implemented, new polygraph screening methods along with harsher and more immediate penalties for those found revealing secrets could make for simpler responses to that question “how was your day?” – even if it’s your spouse asking.
ClearanceJobs founder and managing director Evan Lesser was recently interviewed by Federal Times about security clearance processing and progress. While dramatic improvements in processing times have been made in recent years and the security clearance program has been taken off the Government Accountability Office hot seat, there’s still a lot to be done.
A special thanks to our security clearance investigators who visit the site for your wealth of experience and feedback. There’s nothing quite like a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective on reform efforts and progress!
In January 2012 a bill was introduced in the Maryland State Senate that proposed a State income tax credit for costs incurred to obtain federal security clearances. The first reading of the bill (SB296) proposed a requirement for “the Governor of Maryland to make a $6,000,000 appropriation in FY2014 and FY21015 for the tax credit, applying the Act to all taxable years beginning after December 31, 2011.” The bill was unclear as to what costs would qualify for the tax credit and who could claim it. Basically it just appropriated money for the tax credit.
News articles originally suggested that the “proposal would offer tax credits worth up to $3,000 or half the cost of the security clearance, whichever is less, to the individual or company paying for it.” But individuals and companies rarely pay for federal security clearances. Someone must have educated the sponsors of the bill on this fact, resulting in significant changes to the bill before it was signed into law on May 22, 2012. Even the title of the bill changed from “Income Tax Credit – Security Clearance Expense” to “Income Tax Credit – Security Clearances – Employer Costs.”
The new law allows employers to claim a Maryland tax credit of up to $100,000 per year for:
(I) Security clearance administrative expenses incurred with regard to an employee in the state including, but not limited to:
Employers can also claim an annual tax credit of 50% of the costs or $100,000 (whichever is less) for the construction or renovation of a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) located in the state. If multiple SCIFs are involved, the maximum tax credit is limited $250,000 per year.
The credits will be available for tax years beginning after December 2012, but before January 2017. Two million dollars in tax credits will be available each year. If applications for tax credits exceed $2,000,000 per year, the credits will be allocated to employers on a pro-rata basis.
The law provides the basic procedures for applying for the tax credit, but leaves it to the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development to craft a regulation that defines the exact nature of administrative expenses that will qualify for the tax credit.
The law will help smaller Maryland companies improve their clearance processing capabilities. It is particularly timely, since many small cleared defense contractors have not yet purchased electronic fingerprint capture equipment needed by December 2013 to implement the Secure Web Fingerprint Transmission (SWFT) system as required by the Department of Defense for security clearance processing.
Michelle Bachmann is raising eyebrows with a rather odd request for dual citizenship with Switzerland. Under Swiss law, Bachmann was automatically eligible for citizenship upon marrying her husband (the son of Swiss citizens) in 1978. According to news reports, it was just several months ago that Bachmann decided to register her citizenship with Swiss authorities.
Bachmann has since issued a statement saying she sent a letter to Swiss authorities requesting the withdrawal of her Swiss citizenship.
It’s a sticky situation for a former presidential candidate and member of congress, especially one with a high-profile appointment on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which gives Bachmann oversight over intelligence agencies including the CIA and NSA.
Dual citizenship alone isn’t grounds for security-clearance denial, but possessing a foreign passport, having overseas financial dealings, or obtaining citizenship benefits from a foreign country are all potentially disqualifying conditions. Certainly if Bachmann had obtained Swiss citizenship and then taken advantage of any of its benefits that would have been seen as a possible reason for a security clearance suspension. (Although I’m sure we could make a good argument that a member of congress could mitigate the benefits with their allegiance to the United States…maybe). For the average security-cleared professional, it would definitely be a dumb and potentially job jeopardizing move to request foreign citizenship while possessing a security clearance.
I would guess Bachmann was simply the victim of bad advice or poor planning – perhaps her children expressed a desire to explore their Swiss roots through citizenship, which prompted the family to reach out to the Swiss consulate. At least that’s what we can hope. For now, we can rest assured that Swiss spies are not infiltrating the House Intelligence Committee.
Note: Members of Congress do not undergo a security-clearance investigation the same way security-cleared workers do. Their access to sensitive information is based on their election to public office, not an SF-86. While some have argued that members of congress should be required to undergo a formal investigation, no movement has happened on that proposal. House members are required to take an oath of secrecy, and Intelligence Committee members have a separate secrecy oath, as well. It’s unclear if dual citizenship would be an issue considered by the House and Senate Security Offices, the same way it would in a personnel background investigation. Read this article on congressional security clearances for more information.
Due to backlog in the screening process, the TSA is allowing some personnel to be hired prior to the standard background check and security assessment.
WSB-TV in Atlanta received a copy of an internal memo from airline officials, which outlined the Transportation Security Administration directive to employers and contractors at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
TSA sources told WSB-TV that the backlog was caused by a computer glitch which kept clearance information from being sent to the TSA for processing.
“To allow for a continuity of operations, TSA has provided airports and airlines with interim regulatory relief,” TSA spokesman Jon Allen said in a statement. “At no time was security at risk, and all new employees will still undergo identity verification and be subject to watch list matching.”
Lawmakers are allegedly outraged, with several expressing concern that individuals could be hired and given access to airport facilities without having an appropriate background check.
While almost all TSA positions list security clearance eligibility as a requirement, only supervisors and headquarters managers are processed for higher-level secret security clearances. In 2010, the TSA announced it would be requiring security clearances for all supervisors, increasing the number of cleared TSA personnel from roughly 774 to over 10,000.